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One in five early years workers considering leaving the sector

By Rachel Lawler childcare staff and baby smiling early years workforce

One in five early years workers is considering leaving the early years sector due to stress or mental health concerns, according to the Alliance’s latest survey. 

Nearly 3,800 professionals working in nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings responded to the survey between December 2020 and January 2021. 

The survey also found that 80% of early years workers have felt stressed about work due to the Covid-19 pandemic “somewhat” or “very” often in the last month. More than a third (36%) of survey respondents said that they did not feel able to cope with the additional pressures that Covid-19 was putting on their early years roles. 

72% of workers said they had experience fatigue or tiredness due to the impact of the pandemic on their work in the past months, while 70% had experienced anxiety and 59% experienced insomnia. One in 10 practitioners (11%) said they had taken time off work due to the pressures caused by the pandemic. 

The survey also found that the three main sources of stress for those working in the early years sector are:  

  1. Keeping up to date with the latest government guidance 
  2. Ensuring the safety of children and practitioners at their provision (i.e. reducing the risk of Covid transmission) 
  3. Concerns about the financial viability of their provision 

Almost nine in 10 (87%) practitioners that they don’t think that the role that the early years sector has played during the pandemic has been adequately valued by the government.  

One anonymous survey respondent said: “I love my job, but feel totally overwhelmed by having to stay up to date with all the guidance, stay on top of all the cleaning I have to do to ensure the children, and my family, are kept as safe as possible, as well as all the usual planning and preparing that comes with the job.” 

Another said: “I have always loved my job, but I’m about to resign this week as I don’t feel safe at work. It’s causing terrible stress and anxiety, and arguments at home.”  

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Alliance, commented: “It is clear from these results that this is a sector at breaking point. Those working in nurseries, pre-schools and childminding settings have been asked to put their own safety, and that of their loved ones, at risk with little support and even less recognition, and so it is no surprise that this has taken such a toll on their mental health and wellbeing.  

“Those in government should take a moment to reflect on how it feels to listen to ministers tell everyone how vital it is to stay at home, and to watch as hospitalisation and death rates continue to rise, and then to be asked to keep working in a close-contact environment with no support with PPE, no testing and no vaccinations. Is it any wonder that such a significant proportion of the early years workforce are considering simply walking away?  

“We urge the government to take stock of these findings, and commit to providing the support that those in the early years need to remain safe and sustainable during this period. The sector is doing its utmost to continue providing a vital service to families at an incredibly difficult and worrying time, but it is not fair, and it is not right, to ask them to continue to do so if the cost is their own wellbeing, whether physical or mental.

"If we keep going the way we are going, we are going to lose excellent professionals from the sector for good."